Crooks and thieves

I’m going to have to be careful here.

This week I received (yet again) another mailshot from British Telecom, or BT as the company prefers to be known. They want me to agree to move my phone and broadband accounts to them. In return, they’ll give me a large discount. Which is nice, isn’t it.

Except …

I also received this email today:

“Good morning,

“I hope you get this in time, my family and I made a trip to Manila, (Philippines) unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel we are staying, all cash,credit card and cell were stolen off us but luckily we still have our passports with us,

“I have been to the Embassy and the Police here but their response was too casual, the bad news is our flight will be leaving very soon but we are having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let us leave until we settle the bills, I will need your help/LOAN financially I promise to make the refund once we get back home, you are my last resort and hope, Please let me know if i can count on you and i need you to keep checking your email because it’s the only way i can reach you.


This sad tale would be bad enough, but it’s happened to three other friends of mine this week already. And four or five last week, the week before, the week before that and on and on into the dim, distant past.

It is very sad. Oh, you don’t think it’s genuine? Well, perhaps it is odd that of my friends, 35 have recently visited Manila. It does seem peculiar. And since I doubt every single friend who goes to that city will have had their money nicked, but miraculously been left with their passports – perhaps there’s something fishy. I don’t know.

What does seem odd is that the victims of these crimes are almost always (I had one yahoo user) clients of BTinternet and 2. ask that you reply to their other account – some yahoo, some hotmail, some “”. This week my mother received a similar email from a friend of hers. Oddly, the message again told her that her friend was stuck – although in that case, the friend wasn’t in the Philippines but the Bahamas. That surprised my mother, because her friend – well, actually her next-door-neighbour – was in the garden as my mother received the message.

She asked her neighbour. No, they hadn’t been abroad. And yes, they had a BTinternet account. But she told my mother not to worry. They had received the same email from my mother recently. Guess which email account she uses?

All a crook needs is one of these and the world's his oyster

All a crook needs is one of these and the world’s his oyster

Why is this happening?

Well, I think that most humans are fallible. If they are offered a large sum of money (which is a relative sum depending on where people live, what their aspirations are, and what the potential is for getting caught), most people will take it. Not because they are evil, but because, sometimes, it offers a way out of immediate problems.

I recall a conversation many years ago with a friend (and manager). A man had just been arrested for the theft of some thousands of pounds from his company. I think he was a lawyer. My boss of the time was scathing. “What a prat! He gave up his reputation, his career, his livelihood, for a few thousand!” My boss went quiet a moment, drawing reflectively on his cigarette (this was the good old days), and said, “You wouldn’t see me do that for less than five million.”

His argument was rational. If you were to take a risk with everything, it had to be for enough money that you could cease working and live off the interest for the rest of your life. There was a break point where the theft, fraud, whatever it might be, became worthwhile.

Many years ago, BT and other companies decided that with the cost of international communications dropping through the floor, it was worth their while basing call centres abroad. The staff would be cheaper, the costs of providing desks and phones would be vastly less, and they could save a lot of money.

The risk involved? Only that whereas in the UK it would cost hundreds or thousands to bribe a UK employee into giving details of customers, once access to client details (such as emails) were moved to a poorer nation with staff who were paid far less, the cost of bribing those staff would also fall.

Thus it is that (so the BBC reported a little while ago) fraudsters can acquire many hundreds of email addresses with user ID and passwords for a few tens of pounds. If you are a call operator with an ill parent, a need for food for your children, or just a desire to impress a girlfriend, you will probably not think twice about selling two hundred client accounts for fifty dollars, cash in hand.

No, I have no idea whether this is what’s happened here. I don’t know that BT is worse than any other company. However, I do know that the vast majority of the spam messages asking for me to send money (which incidentally means giving out other details such as my bank account and leaving me open to all forms of fraud) come from BT accounts.

So, I am not likely to be changing from my own email servers any time soon, BT, I’m afraid.



3 Responses to “Crooks and thieves”
  1. When I received this it had a big red health warning on top telling me that your account may have been compromised and used to send malicious messages. Was it put there by BT? Doubt it, I’m in Spain on my Movistar account.

    I’ve had this too Mike, on several occasions, here and in Scotland, and I haven’t noticed an overwhelming BT link.



  2. Old Trooper says:

    All it takes is having one friend’s computer hacked or they click on or run a mouse over a spurious e-mail releasing a virus / trojan that steals their address book and everyone is suddenly getting e-mails as you describe. My spam level received was low for a while until recently someone’s address book must have been ‘acquired.’ Now, I daily get at least a few spam scams (which I just delete without touching them).


  3. cornwer says:

    I have a BT Internet account and I haven’t had my account hacked (should I add “yet”?). As BT Internet have outsourced their email to Yahoo there may be the same modus operandi. I do not access BT Internet via webmail very often, and I have not uploaded my address book, which is what I think is stolen, not necessarily the password. And the ones I have seen have gone to the trouble of getting an account with (part of Microsoft I believe) with the same name before the @ sign and using the reply-to feature which less sophisticated users will be unaware of.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: